Using FMLA for IEP Meetings

Yes, parents can use Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time to attend individualized education program (IEP) meetings for their children. The United States Department of Labor published an opinion on August 8, 2019, explaining that parents can use their FMLA time in order to attend IEP meetings for their children. This was an important decision. 

Paid Time Off and Families

This opinion matters to a lot of parents. Many individuals get a limited amount of paid time off. A lot of people may worry about losing their jobs if they take more than their allotted paid time off during a single year. For parents, this worry can intensify because when you have kids, you’re using your paid time off, sick time and vacation for yourself and your kids. When your kids get sick, when they have doctor’s appointments, when they have school performances or parent-teacher conferences, your paid time off is not just yours anymore. It is also for your family. 

For parents who have children with disabilities, there are additional worries. Kids with disabilities can sometimes need even more doctor’s appointments, specialists or surgeries, all of which could require even more time off! For parents with disabilities who have kids with disabilities, there’s even more stress and worry. Parents with disabilities may have their own specialists to see. This means they need time off from work for those specialist visits. Plus, their kids may have specialists to see so this may result in using all your time off and more! Needing additional time off to go to IEP meetings could mean the difference between keeping your job and losing it unless you have protections. These protections allow you to keep your job and take time off. This is where the FMLA time comes in.

Using FMLA time to attend IEP meetings can give parents peace of mind. They can attend the meetings that are important to their children’s education and not lose their job. FMLA allows employees to take unpaid job protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, for up to 12 work weeks within a 12-month period.

What Qualifies Under FMLA

I want to be clear: while this is really great news for people who are covered under FMLA, this is not available for everyone. This is only available for individuals who are considered eligible employees for covered entities under the Family and Medical Leave Act. So, let’s start with what qualifies as a “covered employer.” A covered employer is one of the following:

  • A private sector employer with 50 or more employees for 20 or more consecutive weeks during the current or prior year.
  • A public agency including a local, state, or federal entity regardless of how many employees it has.
  • a public or private elementary or secondary school regardless of how many employees it has.

Now, what is an “eligible employee?” An eligible employee must meet the following criteria:

  • You must work for a covered entity.
  • You must have worked for your employer for at least twelve months.
  • You must have at least 1,250 hours of service with that employer within the immediate 12 months prior to requesting the leave.
  • you must work at a location that has at least 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

So, if you are an eligible employee that works for a covered entity and you want to take FMLA to attend your child’s IEP meeting, then you must submit that request in advance, just like you would any other time off request. The Department of Labor suggests at least 30 days’ notice where the leave is foreseeable. Where the leave is not foreseeable, however, then you should put in the request as soon as possible.

IEP Meetings and Children with Disabilities

I would be remiss if I ended this blog without saying that it is my firm belief that a child with a disability should always be included in their IEP meeting. While the law does not require a child to be included until a certain age, I believe that children with disabilities should be included in any meeting that discusses them.

In the Disability Community, our mantra is “nothing about us without us” and if you’re discussing our education plans, we can contribute to them. While I did not have an IEP growing up, I did have a 504 plan, which is similar to an IEP in some ways. I was as young as five or six years old and actively participated in those plans and contributed to those meetings. I expressed what I could and could not do and what I did and did not want.

So, while I may not have been the most eloquent at expressing myself at such a young age, I had the right to participate in a plan for myself. It helped me learn how to advocate for myself from a very young age. It’s not just parents and teachers who should have a say in what happens in a child’s education program. The child should have a say as well. After all, it’s their education.

Stephanie Woodward is a proud disabled person, an attorney, and the Brand Ambassador Advisor for Quantum Rehab. While Stephanie is an attorney, she is not your attorney and this blog should not be construed as providing legal advice. 

About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador advisor for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.

Click to read part two of this series.

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